By Ella Adkins
THIS IS GREAT MATERIAL
July 17-August 21, 2020
Unprecedented times call for unprecedented futures. Within the unknown future, there’s the potential to re-imagine our known spaces. There’s a possibility for a new; a never before.
THIS IS GREAT MATERIAL, an online exhibition and poster series exhibited by Gallery Gachet, explores the notion of reimagined spaces and potential realities through the celebration of collage. The exhibition features the work of five artists: Marissa Diamond, Afuwa, Tamara Bond, Mary Phyllis O’Toole, and Krystle Coughlin Silverfox, all of whom are located throughout the region of the unceded Esquimalt, Songhees, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh territories.
As I meander through the virtual exhibition, I first find pause in the vibrant patterning and diverse textures of artist Marissa Diamond’s work. Throughout her five works, I get lost in the layers of cross lateral landscapes of vibrant pinks and greens, triangles of orange felt, a cheetah print ‘x,’ and a hole punched strip ripped out of a Hilroy notebook. I’m reminded of my own past doodles in the margins of my Hilroy as I panic about my upper lip acne, wishing for high school and hormones to be over.
The title of her fifth piece ‘Skinny Dip’, prompts me to look for the naked body. I cock my head at the purple and the pink with black dots and focus on a small curved pink shape submerged in a blue mass. There is no resolve as to whether or not this is a ‘human’ body, I’m only reminded of the tingling sensation of my bare skin entering cool water.
Through her titling and abstract shapely reminders of bodily parts and forms, Diamond reworks preconceived ideas about the body:
“Piecing and rearranging the components of each artwork allows me to create this new ‘world’ where bodies are liberated. The shapes I use are bodily, but simultaneously reference things found in landscapes and nature such as the moon, sun, sky, plants, rocks, hills, and animals — I think of the collages as ‘bodyscapes.’”
Diamond cuts and peels remnants of dried paint, as well as other scrap materials, that no longer exist in their wholeness. She sees this discarded material as a speculative metaphor for bodies and physical traits that do not meet the westernized standards of beauty. ‘Unconventional’ bodies are discarded by the male gaze and no longer have use in being ‘beautiful.’ Diamond recuperates these discarded parts and re-appropriates the ‘useless’ body into a useful, functional, and celebrated state and space.
Throughout the exhibition, there is a repeated theme of collecting ‘scraps’ of reality in order to recreate a more inclusive and celebrated future. In Mary O’Toole’s work, she utilizes collage to present the dichotomy of realities she experiences as an individual with schizophrenia.
O’Toole explains that individuals with schizophrenia “view themselves as the person they are and as an imaginary person.” She uses magazine cutouts of recognizable forms such as images of cars, cartoon and real-world animals, and depictions of female bodies and faces. This keeps the viewer rooted in reality, however, her arrangement of this media creates new shapes and spaces, such as that of a castle, or the silhouette of a face, or a neighbourhood. O’Toole depicts the unseeable—her own experience with schizophrenia living between two realities. She hopes to create landscapes “without discrimination and acceptance” for those with schizophrenia.
The exhibition also presents the possibilities for healing through the process of collage. Artist Tamara Bond utilizes collage to cover up written diary entries she crawled on sheets of paper during a past psychotic episode she experienced. The writing is hardly visible: the viewer is enchanted by fantastical fairy-like figures, horses, faces with large exaggerated mouths and gouache strokes. Bond uses collage as a healing practice, almost like placing a whimsical medicinal cloth over a written wound.
‘THIS IS GREAT MATERIAL’ not only strives to create resilient future worlds of healing and inclusion, but calls upon the interconnection of history, land, and culture that makes up an individual and a life story. Both artists Afuwa and Krystle Coughlin Silverfox loosely use the form of the portrait paralleled with textured materials to recall ideas of belonging and interconnectedness.
Coughlin Silverfox’s works Hats’adän echo (elder’s teachings) are four digital collages inspired by family photos. Each work contains a silhouette of bodies in different constructed landscapes. In one work, two figures stand on a deck near the ocean, in another, two figures are in an upside-down forest next to a bridge to the moon. The spaces that the silhouettes leave are filled with their own landscapes whether it be blue sky, a mountain view, a fir tree branch, or fluffy clouds.
Regardless of the lack of a human figure, these portraits seem to more viscerally connect people’s narratives and history to place and landscape. The non-human elements construct the personal narrative and connection without the human being present. Each figure is outlined with small coloured beads, which recalls Coughlin Silverfox’s Indigenous heritage and practices. The beads act as a visual and tactile tether, evoking the traditional Indigenous craft and demonstrating how one’s cultural traditions and practices form their identities. Coughlin Silverfox creates the shape of her familial figures with evocative elements from her own heritage, figuratively reminding us of the interconnected cultural elements that construct an individual.
Afuwa also employs the human empty portrait silhouette in her collection Familiar Icons in order to explore the precious bonds of blood, land and spirit. Her works have a rich opulence in colour and texture—gold leaf on wooden panels make up the background of each work, and each figure is made up of handmade printed patterned paper of rich blues, reds, greens, purples and oranges. These portraits evoke a stunning and iconic family, saturated in colour and intricate textures.
“I focused on the precious and the portable, using handmade paper and 23 karat gold — not only to underscore the value of these relationships that resisted the destruction wrought by enslavement and indentureship, but to lay claim, as well, to the gold and other resources extracted with neither recompense nor acknowledgement of the poisoned landscape left behind.” The process of assembling for Afuwa is part of the gratitude to the sacred artefacts of her history, as part of the ritual and prayer.
This exhibition externalizes anxieties, intimacies, and connectivity in a tactile and visceral sense. Through the process of collage, we can see the layering, recognize material and forms, and are reminded of our reality. However, we must abandon what these familiar images, textures, and titles signify in order to experience these works. We don’t see the naked woman’s body skinny dipping into the cool water in Diamond’s work. Instead, the feeling of the ‘skinny dip’ is evoked, allowing for all ‘imperfect’ shapes forms, and bodies to experience the sensation. We aren’t seeing the family posed portrait, rather we are seeing the opulence and vibrancy of history and blood love, and the felt natural manifestations of one’s heritage. Collage has a foot rooted in reality, and the other in the imagined, a speculative metaphor utilized by O’Toole to explore the experienced dichotomy of the schizophrenic mind.
Collage collects the discarded, the scrap, the small, the insignificant, the forgotten, and blends, mixes, layers, and weaves known materials into new imagined spaces. These are spaces built on the remnants of our troubled worlds that envision more resilient and respectful potential futures. The five artists show how picking through the troubles and complexities of our current realities can result in portraying progressive and magical future perspectives, creating imperfect possibilities through a hopeful craft.
‘THIS IS GREAT MATERIAL’ was exhibited from July 17-August 21, 2020 at Gallery Gachet . Gallery Gachet is located in the DTES neighbourhood of Vancouver, British Columbia. http://gachet.org/